Academic journal article Military Review

Partnership for the Americas: The Human Rights Initiative

Academic journal article Military Review

Partnership for the Americas: The Human Rights Initiative

Article excerpt

The United States must defend liberty and justice because these principles are right and true for all people everywhere. These nonnegotiable demands of human dignity are protected most securely in democracies. The United States government will work to advance human dignity in word and deed, speaking out for freedom and against violations of human rights and allocating resources to advance these ideals.

--National Security Strategy of the United States of America (2006) (1)


THE U.S. SOUTHERN COMMAND (USSOUTHCOM) is responsible for conducting military operations, planning, and security cooperation with the nations of Latin America and the Caribbean. From its headquarters in Miami, USSOUTHCOM professionals focus their efforts on realizing the command's vision of a community of nations that enjoy lasting relationships based on shared values and common interests. These relationships are critical to addressing the security challenges facing the nations today--challenges that are largely transnational in nature and, as such, require cooperative solutions. USSOUTHCOM's motto of "Partnership for the Americas" underscores the importance of working together as partners toward common goals.

Respect for human rights and the rule of law is a critical aspect of these partnerships, and USSOUTHCOM plays a leading role in helping to foster that respect. In response to the widespread human rights abuses that rocked many of the nations of Latin America in the 1970s and 1980s, USSOUTHCOM leaders created a human rights program that focused on ensuring correct behavior by U.S. military personnel and on encouraging the institutionalization of a culture of respect for human rights in partner-nation military forces. In the 15 years of its existence, this unique program has proven to be invaluable to advancing the Partnership for the Americas.

History of USSOUTHCOM's Program

In 1990, General Maxwell R. Thurman, USSOUTHCOM commander, issued a policy defining the human rights responsibilities of all U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) personnel who served in the command's area of focus.

In unequivocal terms, the new directive stated that "one of our most important and universal foreign policy objectives is to promote the increased observance of internationally recognized human rights by all countries." This memorandum established the requirement for all U.S. military personnel to immediately record and report through the chain of command any instance of suspected human rights violation. To ensure U.S. military personnel were aware of what constituted a human rights violation, General Thurman also instituted mandatory human rights training for all personnel deploying within USSOUTHCOM's area of responsibility.

Established in mid-1990, the mandatory training included instruction in four key areas: the laws of war and international humanitarian law; U.S. Government human rights policies, objectives, and directives at the national and international level; the responsibilities of military personnel to support these policies; and procedures for reporting suspected human rights violations. This pre-deployment training was supplemented by a wallet-sized, quick-reference Human Rights Standing Orders Card that personnel were required to carry at all times. The card, with minor revisions, remains in use today. It reminds personnel of "the five R's of human rights" (recognize, refrain, react, record, and report) and lists USSOUTHCOM's standing orders concerning respect for human rights.

The command was acutely aware that failure to improve respect for human rights in the region would ultimately jeopardize the success of its missions and undermine public and congressional support for essential military-to-military programs. Consequently, shortly after initiating the internal training program, USSOUTHCOM also made human rights instruction an element of all training provided to partner-nation military forces. …

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